Bradley Wester

DISCOurse, 2013—present

The body of work I call DISCOurse is a non-medium-specific practice, combining painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, and photographic digital imaging into larger works/installations.  The work formally manipulates the glitz and glam aesthetic of early queer disco, reimagining its diverse site as a rehearsal for inclusion. In that era of the disco club, the veil of repression was lifted, if only for a few hours, to make otherness or queerness attractive and dazzling—even for the straight interloper. From Andy Warhol to movie stars, S&M queens to Jersey teens with good haircuts, at the Disco you came home. Before the eventual elitism of the velvet rope, or Disco’s arguable devolvement into sex, drugs, and death, certainly for a time the Disco was a dreamland of marginal belonging. From this utopic perspective, 70’s Disco heralded progressive change by reveling in its flamboyant, radical aesthetic of shine.

Interestingly, our contemporary shine aesthetic seems to have lost its agency. Is there something deeper beneath the shallow fixation with today’s new and shiny?

Shine now is expressed primarily in our coveted assortment of personal technological devices. Thin and impenetrable, its depth an illusion, this shine flatteringly reflects our image inside our things. As well as the image of others watching us watch ourselves inside our things. Like queer shine, it makes us look good. But alas, it is hygienic, opaque, a more devious smoke and mirror. It is shine as stealth, an apparatus that monitors us while it obscures. Our shiny commodity fetish acts to distract us from, and formally condition us to, a habituated environment of omnipresent surveillance and secrecy. Shiny is the preferred characteristic of not only our neo-liberal market economy of indispensable things, but an outsourced military industrial complex. It conceals from us, for example, both the disproportional politics of labor production and the dirt on our hands from the “clean kills” of unmanned aerial warfare. It even distracts us from our own mortality.

With DISCOurse, I mean to celebrate and critique our pervasive shine obsession. I look soberly at the dangers of contemporary shine through a nostalgic filter of disco toward a re-queering and re-radicalizing of shine. This work elevates the imperfect, the perforated, the broken shine, to reveal the interstices of societies’ reflection, the spaces between our fragments, androgynous spaces, filled with potential.

The site of DISCOurse, like cross-border economies, is where material goods, ideas, and definitions are hybridized and repurposed, are new and possible, where culture and the imagination anticipate a future diverse, optimistic, joyous and fun—it puts the disco back into critical discourse.

In a mirror queerness can hide. Not like skin color. What the regular ‘straight mirror’ reveals then is the surface of things, it reflects-confirms what we already know or think we know—the present. The spinning disco ball, or ‘queer mirror’, reflects what it sees in front, behind, up, down, even what we can’t see—dizzying, exotic, a pixelated globe. It makes of us a fractured, multiplicity of moving reflections in the round, scattered and recontoured onto chance surfaces. Here, even the straight reflection is made queer. It is in the spaces between our fragments, androgynous spaces, where potentiality lies—the future.

In the 3-D mixed media wall and floor pieces, I use custom pegboard either enameled black, brushed aluminum, coated with silver Mylar, or painted white. The pegboard acts as a conductive substrate for other materials and objects such as smaller paintings, disco balls, digital prints, found photos, holographic tape, Plexiglas, tube lights, pipe cleaners, leather and chain, to be attached and arranged. The evenly perforated panels are like large computer motherboards, each with a unique ‘form factor’ by which the connected components or ‘circuits’ communicate.

Often mirrored or shiny, the mother-pegboard makes all external reflections components too. These reflected images, including the viewer’s, appear to rasterize into a bitmap of 1’s and 0’s as the formal grid of pegboard holes act as a dot matrix inside the image. The reflections corrupt further as they are interpolated into the other layers of the work. One such layer on the surface of these panels can be images of digital glitches—failed images of pure pixilation, referring to both the pegboard and the mirrored disco ball as analog pixelating or image-failing device.

The shiny surfaced works can also be seen to perform like the mirror in a single-lens reflex camera, or a micro view of a silver gelatin print. In this way, I want to expand photography and re-imagine painting in an age of information and digital reproduction. Painting is liberated here not just from the static pictorial field of the canvas container, but also from ever having to complete itself. The work contains, and therefore is contingent on, whatever is in front of it—the viewer, other works nearby, the room itself. The total picture can only be formalized in live time, moving through space, only to change again, forever precarious.

Other significant associations embedded in my use of generic commercial pegboard are as both a holder and organizer of tools used in manual labor, and as a display-holder of commodities in large store aisle constructions. Both uses are conflated in the DISCOurse art works, becoming simultaneously their own shiny commodity and that which displays it. Riddled with holes, they might also suggest the chink in neo-liberal’s armor.

Previous Work, 2003—13

For over a decade, I have worked on a long-term project entitled, “Ephemera & Culture: Italy, Turkey, and Japan—a Trilogy,” three bodies of artwork initiated in, and made from the ephemera of, three distinct cultures outside the U.S. Part 1, “Italy,” began at the American Academy in Rome where I was a Visiting Artist in 2003-4. Part 2 “Japan” is a result of a Fulbright Specialist Grant where I spent the summer of 2008 as a Visiting Artist at Kyoto University of Art & Design. The most recent and final part of the trilogy, “Turkey” was the result of my travels to Turkey and Andalusia. Three symmetrical and distinct cultures are chosen: If Rome Italy can be seen as the seat of western art, then Kyoto Japan can be viewed with equal historical significance to the east. Finally, Istanbul, the gateway between East and West, and the collision between western and eastern values—Byzantine, Muslim, and secular culture—represents the centerpiece of the trilogy. I felt it imperative to include Turkey (the Islamic section) to begin to reconcile being an American artist whose country’s values and foreign policy elicit such extremes of hope and violence in Muslim society.

My material and contextual manipulations of commonplace materials and various kinds of ephemera make multiple iconographic references, from the modernist grid to computer circuitry, from the Italian Baroque to Japanese art and Anime, etc. When my early drawing/collages using paper labels and stickers from stationery stores began to impersonate the look and geometry of computer circuit boards in 2000-1 (see ‘Other Work’), I was inspired to enlist real computer circuitry to ‘re-draw’ the label designs as digital files in a graphics software. The result closed the circle: Paper labels—a kind of ‘dumb’ information architecture, mimicking circuitry—a hi-tech information architecture, that in turn mimics the paper labels. I want to have it both ways: exploit the glamour and scope of technology while retaining the political agency of art made with my hands out of mundane materials. This position stands against, while it gains traction from, a pervasive culture of spectacular images controlled by a triumvirate of powerful industries in three distinct locations: Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Madison Avenue.